Every lifter, at some point in his or her life, has the questioned the ‘dirty bulk’. One day you wake up and look in the mirror and say “I need to put on some size.” This blog will focus on the specific intake approach, and the choices that are made in attempting to, as us meat-heads call it, MAKE GAINS. I will also help you understand why the ‘dirty bulk‘ approach won’t leave you with the easiest time when you decide to begin leaning out again.
You’ve made the decision to take some time off from shred city and you’re going to try to grow. How are you going to do it? Undoubtedly if you are in any way sociable, you’ve discussed approaches to growth with others around you. You’ve probably had some massive, not-so-lean powerlifting type tell you a “dirty bulk’ is the only way to go. Then, some skinny dude with shredded abs telling you about his clean-eating approach that has allowed him to build this 170lb testament to size standing before you. You’re starting to conclude that the only way to build size is abuse steroids and protein powder. Please don’t do that, EVER.
Let’s break down these two approaches. This blog is going to focus on the “dirty bulk.” I will post another later that analyzes a “cleaner” approach and offers my own methods that have helped me build up from an off-season mostly-lean 190 lbs to a similar body composition at 210 lbs. In my own experience, this method involves eating everything and anything you can to put on size, ignoring what kind of nutrients you are taking in. All you are thinking is CALORIES, CALORIES, and then…more CALORIES. This isn’t necessarily incorrect thinking.
Calories are the energy source that allows your body to perform metabolic processes. In order to put on size, you need an excess of calories. In order to shred down you need a caloric deficit. So taking in all the calories you can find will definitely allow you to increase size and weight. What kind of size are you adding, though? I have a certain friend at school who is currently trying to pack on some serious size. He competed in physique with me back in 2014 and has made it a goal to grow a good bit and get back on stage again. Now summing up his current approach to size, we will say he is eating a stack of pancakes (just about every single day) for breakfast. Then at some other point throughout the day (again, almost every day of his life) he is ordering a pizza and cinnamon rolls, etc. It’s a diet many would dream of — pizza and pancakes every day? Yes PLEASE. However, what kind of calories is he getting from this approach? Let’s break it down. Say he orders a large hand-tossed pepperoni pizza and an order of cinnamon sticks from Dominos. One serving of that pizza translates to:
- 12.5g fat
- 34g carbs
- 12g protein
And a serving of the cinnamon sticks is
- 6g fat
- 14g carbs
- 2g protein
So if throughout a whole day he consumes the entire meal he has taken in 148g fat, 384g carbs, and 112g protein. He certainly has a high caloric intake for that meal (3,316 calories). His calories are in the right range for a whole day’s intake. The sources are what may be skewed.
Many people fail to realize that bulking, much like cutting is achieved through a scientific approach via macronutrient manipulation. Generally, an individual is going to want to keep his or her carbs high, protein similarly high, and fats lower. A general rule of approximation is to follow a 40:40:20 calorie split (where 40% of calories come from carbs, 40% from protein, and 20% from fat). To analyze my friend’s Dominos approach, his currentlly at a 46:14:40. So 40% of his calories in that meal are coming from fat. Now I realize analyzing only this meal as opposed to his entire daily intake is not a true depiction of his whole split, however we can assume a proportional relationship overall since he’s unlikely to shift that split much in the other meals he consumes.
So why is this high fat diet a problem? Fat is burned mostly at a low-intensity exercise level and with interval training. During a time of bulking, cardio has likely been cut back severely, if not completely from exercise regimen. So the only exercise burning extra fat off throughout the day (aside from his BMR) is the 1-2 hours spent doing weight training (a form of intervals). With this higher fat intake, and less fat being burned from cardio training, much of that high-calorie fat is being stored in his body, likely as adipose tissue. Is he going to add size and weight? Yes, absolutely. Is it going to be lean muscle? That’s not very likely. I recommend staying true to the 40:40:20 split, or close to it. You will have to explore what works best for you. Perhaps you react better to higher protein (ex: Ronnie Coleman). Maybe your body metabolizes fat better so you can bump yours up a bit (within reason). Do research to get an idea of what kind of caloric intake range you should be in to gain size. I personally pay a well-known registered dietitian in Pittsburgh to determine this for me, but there are apps out there that can offer a reasonable estimation as well (such as “The Nutritionist” or “My Fitness Pal”).
So at the end of the day, using a dirty bulk approach may not be your best bet, at least not as a bodybuilding competitor or average Joe. You are going to gain a lot of size and, if you train right, strength. However when it comes time to cut you are going to have a lot more adipose tissue to shred, which will increase the duration of your cut. Realistically, no one wants to deal with that. So before you decide that the only way to pack on monster size and grow before next beach season or competition, think about just HOW dirty you want to go.
NOTE: I realize that this blog has focused really on only one individual with his specific approach. There are other foods and methods to dirty bulking. I am using this one as an extreme example that many people may be tempted to try. I will discuss other methods in later blogs, so don’t get too worked up about the one-dimensional nature of this discussion.